Film / Where Are My Children?

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Where Are My Children? is a 1916 drama written and directed by Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley, starring Tyrone Power Sr. (father of the Tyrone Power who would be a leading man in the 1940s and 1950s in films like Witness for the Prosecution).

Richard Walton (Power) is a district attorney. He is busy with an obscenity case in which he is prosecuting a man for distributing birth control literature. Richard longs to be a father, but unbeknownst to him, his selfish wife has no interest whatsoever in being a mother. Mrs. Walton doesn't want motherhood to crimp her high society lifestyle, so she gets an illegal abortion from one Dr. Malfit. As it turns out, this is her third abortion.

Not long after Mrs. Walton terminates her pregnancy, her slimy brother Walter arrives as a houseguest. Simultaneously, the housekeeper's innocent daughter Lillian also arrives as a houseguest. Walter seduces Lillian, Walter knocks up Lillian, and Mrs. Walton refers her brother to Dr. Malfit to handle Lillian's little problem. Tragedy ensues.

Lois Weber was a "message" filmmaker who made movies that would have been considered Oscar Bait if the Oscars had been a thing in the silent film era. Where Are My Children? has something in it to offend almost everyone, being both anti-abortion, pro-eugenics, and pro-birth control, a rare combination in American political discourse (though not so much at the time).


Tropes:

  • Arranged Marriage: Richard's sister entered into a "eugenics marriage". She has a brood of fresh-faced children that Richard envies.
  • Distant Finale: The end uses a dissolve to cut forward decades to show the Waltons old and alone, sitting by the fire.
  • Domestic Abuse: The guy passing out the birth control literature cites cases of alcoholic fathers beating their wives in overcrowded homes in the slums.
  • Downer Ending: The Waltons wind up old and childless in a loveless marriage.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Because if you don't, you might die, and even if you don't die your husband will hate you when he finds out.
  • Idle Rich: After getting an abortion, "a social butterfly is again ready for house parties."
  • Internal Reveal: When Richard finds out what the audience already knows, that his wife had an abortion behind his back.
  • Kubrick Stare: When Richard looks up the steps of his house from the drive, upon returning home after finding out his wife has had three abortions.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Poor Lillian gets knocked up after having sex once, much to her horror. Mrs. Walton aborts three pregnancies, only to find when she changes her mind that those abortions robbed her of the chance to have any other children.
  • Morning Sickness: Well, you couldn't show someone vomiting in 1916. So the film shows Lillian looking ill and refusing all food at the breakfast table.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Would you go to a Dr. "Malfit" for any medical procedure?
  • No Name Given: For either Richard's wife or the housekeeper.
  • Questioning Title?: Where Are My Children?
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The trial of the man distributing birth control literature is obviously inspired by Margaret Sanger's trial for doing just that, not long before this movie was made.
  • Title Drop: "Where are my children?" says Richard when he confronts his wife. Later, his despairing wife wonders the same.
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